Bill would allow coal plants, with restrictions

Carbon dioxide emission limits would be put in place

What’s next

State Sen. Jay Emler, R-Lindsborg, and state Rep. Carl Holmes, R-Liberal said this is the schedule for the new legislation:

Hearings will be held next week in the House Energy and Utilities Committee and Senate Utilities Committee Monday through Thursday, and the committees will work and possibly vote on the measures Friday. The bills are HB 2711 and SB 515.

Monday and Tuesday will be reserved for supporters of the legislation, and Wednesday and Thursday will be reserved for opponents.

The House committee meets at 9:15 a.m. in Room 783 of the Docking building; the Senate committee meets at 9:30 a.m. in Room 526-South in the Capitol.

? Supporters of two coal-burning power plants in western Kansas introduced legislation Wednesday that would require the state to approve construction of the plants while imposing limits on carbon dioxide emissions.

Backers of the bill described it as a compromise between those who want the $3.6 billion plants and environmentalists who oppose the project because it annually would emit 11 million tons of carbon dioxide and other pollutants.

“There is no legislation like this in the United States. This is groundbreaking legislation,” said state Sen. Jay Emler, R-Lindsborg.

But Tom Thompson, a lobbyist for the Kansas chapter of the Sierra Club, said the measure was tailor-made for Hays-based Sunflower Electric Power Corp. to build the two 700-megawatt plants near Holcomb.

“The point of this bill is to build the power plants. You can’t be serious about reducing carbon dioxide emissions and be doing that,” Thompson said.

He added that the process of producing the bill with Sunflower Electric’s input behind closed doors “was a disservice to Kansas.”

The bill came alive after a decision in October by Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Roderick Bremby to deny permits for the plants, citing concerns about CO2 emissions and global warming. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius embraced Bremby’s decision, which made headlines nationwide.

Since then, Sunflower Electric and its supporters, which include legislative leaders, have mounted a furious push to reverse the decision.

House Bill 2711 and Senate Bill 515 would essentially allow Sunflower to reapply for its permits and would limit Bremby’s authority by not allowing him to consider carbon dioxide emissions.

It also would set into place allowable CO2 emissions for new plants, the amount of which would be lowered by 20 percent after one year of operation and 30 percent after 10 years.

Utilities could offset their emissions by using renewable energy sources, such as wind, conservation programs and storing CO2.

And the bill would set energy efficiency standards for public buildings, including schools; require utilities to reduce customer bills if they use solar power; and set up a commission to recommend energy policy.

State Rep. Carl Holmes, R-Liberal, chairman of the House Energy and Utilities Committee, has led the charge to get the plants built.

In addition to Holmes and Emler, the two ranking Democrats on legislative energy committees – state Rep. Annie Kuether, of Topeka, and state Sen. Janis Lee, of Kensington – also worked on the bill.

In talking to members of the House Republican caucus, Holmes said he didn’t know what Sebelius would think about the proposal. In a statement, Sebelius’ spokeswoman, Nicole Corcoran, said the governor and her staff were analyzing the measure.

Legislative reaction was mixed as the complicated proposal was explained in House and Senate caucus meetings.

State Rep. Lee Tafanelli, R-Ozawkie, said, “It does look like a comprehensive approach to energy.”

But state Rep. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, said, “I’m not sure what they’re proposing is much different than what Sunflower has requested in the past.”

State Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said he wasn’t sure it was wise for the Legislature to jump into the decision by Bremby, which Sunflower already has appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court.

And state Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, said he had many questions about how effectively the proposed carbon dioxide trading system would work.

In talking about the bill with House Republicans, Holmes said, “What we tried to do is balance this against all the comments we’ve heard over the last six months.”

But Thompson with the Sierra Club said environmentalists were never invited by Holmes to speak with him.